Colombian cuisine might not be the most famous or celebrated in the world, but there are some truly incredible traditional dishes to enjoy on a trip to South America’s coolest country. As the only country on the continent with both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, as well a vast Amazonian region, fish is a particularly important ingredient in Colombian food: some of Colombia’s tastiest traditional foods are made with fish. So here are Colombia’s best fish dishes: make sure to try at least a few of these on your next trip!
Colombia’s favourite fish dish is eaten all along the Caribbean coast. The Mojarra – a bit like sea bream, although Red Snapper is also sometimes used – is fried whole (the presentation is not for the squeamish!) and served with coconut rice, patacones (fried plantain), and a salad. It has a fairly mild flavour and a firm, meaty texture, and is just about the most representative dish in the entire Caribbean region. Fried mojarra might not be the most unique dish in the country, but it’s the Colombian Caribbean on a plate and a must-eat dish!
Catfish and potato pie is one of the most popular recipes for serving another near-ubiquitous Colombian fish. Although catfish is often served fried or steamed alongside rice and plantain, this delicious recipe is a truly unmissable treat: the fish is layered with potatoes and cream, then baked with a topping of breadcrumbs and cheese. It’s essentially a Colombian fish pie, and is exactly as delicious as that sounds!
Trout might not seem like an especially Colombian fish dish, but it has become the meal in the Colombian Coffee Region, where the fish are farmed, utilizing water from the myriad crystalline streams flowing through the surrounding mountains. A serving of whole trout – sometimes cooked simply with garlic or vegetables – with rice and patacones is the must-try dish in popular coffee tourism hotspots such as Jardin and Salento, and foodies can even enjoy their meal at a restaurant adjacent to the fish farm, where the more adventurous can catch their own fish before eating it.
Sancocho is probably one of the Top 5 most popular Colombian dishes: this ubiquitous soup can be prepared with beef, chicken, or pork, but is often served with fish in coastal or riverine regions. The fish version contains plantain, yuca, potato and corn, and is commonly served with rice, salad, avocado and a squeeze of lime. Don’t be fooled when the waiter describes this dish as a soup: while it technically is, Sancocho de Pescado is a dish unto itself, and is easily enough to fill you up! This, along with the fried mojarra, is probably the most popular fish dish in Colombia.
Literally translated as “Fish widow,” Viuda de Pescado is popular on the coast, as well as in landlocked departments such as Huila, Caldas, Risaralda, and Tolima (where it is prepared with dried bocachico fish). It’s not dissimilar to a sancocho: both are served in or alongside a soup, but Viuda features the fish mixed with vegetables and slathered in a dollop of Colombia hogao sauce (made of onions and tomatoes). This is definitely the fish dish to sample when travelling in the Colombian Andes.
A creamy seafood stew traditional to both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts in several different forms, the cazuela makes this list of fish dishes due to the use of swordfish (or another equivalent white fish) alongside shrimp, clam, octopus, and crab, in the most popular recipes. Served with coconut rice and patacones (a pattern is definitely emerging here!), and cooked in coconut milk and cream, Cazuela de Mariscos is a rich and hearty dish that will surely get any foodie’s mouth watering.
Fish is the principal food source in Colombia’s Amazon regions, especially among the indigenous people who reside there, and in the departments of Caquetá, Guaviare, Guainía, and Vaupés this particular dish is considered a delicacy. It’s a smoked fish dish, where the whole fish is wrapped tightly in plantain leaves and cooked underground over coals, often over a period of several days. A variety of different types of river fish can be used to prepare Pescado Moquiao, and it is commonly served during important indigenous celebrations, making it a tricky dish to find sometimes. However, if you do come across Pescado Moquiao on your travels in Amazonia, make sure to sample it.
Another traditional Amazon fish dish, Ajicero is particularly associated with the isolated and sparsely-populated Guainía region, where it is mostly eaten by indigenous groups. It is prepared by adding large pieces of fish to boiling water and then adding the seeds of hot peppers (a particular delicacy in the Colombian Amazon) as the water boils: it’s a simple and delicious dish! The bowl is usually served alongside manioc pancakes, which are dipped in the spicy broth. It’s a rare delicacy to see outside Guainía, but fish-lovers will fall in love with the rich flavours of Ajicero.
Peruvian ceviche – a dish made of raw seafood marinated in citrus juices – has become one of South America’s most popular and internationally-recognised cuisines, but there’s a unique and tasty Colombian version to enjoy as well. Colombian ceviche is generally made of either fish, shrimp, or octopus, and served with a thick tomato sauce and crackers – it’s almost like a shrimp cocktail. Colombian ceviche might not be quite on the same level as the more popular Peruvian version, but when you’re in Cali or the Pacific coast you shouldn’t miss out on sampling this dish.
Cachama – also known as tambaqui – is one of the most popular fish in the Amazonian region: it’s a very large black fish that can grow up to a meter in length and has delicious white meat. It is prepared in a variety of different ways, but the best way to enjoy cachama is smoked: the traditional dish of Caquetá department. As with the aforementioned Pescado Moquiao, it can be a tricky dish to find sometimes, but a dish of smoked cachama with yucca and plantain is one of the tastiest treats you can find in the jungles of Colombia.